The hungry ghost of arrival bias

Jenni Gritters
5 min readJan 12, 2024

Do you feel behind? I used to feel behind. My little brother feels behind. My best friend feels behind. By this I mean that we’ve all, at some point, felt like we’re not “there” yet. In the race of life, we’re only on mile three and we think we should be at mile 20. We worry that everyone else is looking at us and seeing that we’re not “there.” We feel insecure, full of self judgment, and ashamed. We’re like, “They probably think we don’t have our lives together. They probably judge us. They probably know that as hard as we might try, we’re not as far as we want to be.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon of feeling behind, and berating ourselves for wherever we’re at. And then I heard about a term that really sums this up. It’s called arrival bias.

A bias is a prejudice or inclination toward a certain way of being or thinking. It’s a distortion. And in this case, it means that we have a distorted view of what we will get or feel when we arrive somewhere.

Arrival bias says: “When I get to X step in my life, I’ll feel fulfilled and happy.”

  • When I buy a house, I’ll feel more secure.
  • When I have children, I’ll feel more whole.
  • When I hit six or seven figures of income, I’ll feel more worthy.
  • When I get married, I’ll feel loved.
  • When my business is successful, people will be impressed with me.
  • When I win an award, I’ll finally get rid of my imposter syndrome.

Sound familiar?

Arrival bias implies that there is a destination. And it implies that when we get there, we won’t feel the need to hustle or try anymore. We’ll feel safe.

I hate to break it to you (and me), but there is no such place. There is no destination. Arrival bias is a dead end. So often, we get to the thing that we think will make us feel fulfilled and we find it… empty. We publish the book or the big story. We have the kid. We get married. And then we stand in this new accomplishment and we think… wait, this was what I was waiting for? Then we immediately turn around and start chasing something else in hopes that this will finally be the thing that makes us feel fulfilled.

This hike, in the Central Oregon Cascades, was *truly* about the journey. My son was 2 and we barely went anywhere. We did not get to the summit. But when I looked up, I realized that it was still a really beautiful experience.

--

--

Jenni Gritters

I’m a writer and business coach for freelance creatives based in Central Oregon. I write about the psychology of small business ownership.